Wednesday, July 20, 2011
When I wrote about Zomby’s debut album, I was struck by how it looked backwards, flirting with the line between music-as-art and music-as-discipline. “Maybe” I said “Zomby is making one last nostalgic stop before launching into the wide unknown.”
I guess this is the wide unknown. Shorter than his first (it’s a hair over 35 minutes), Dedication could easily be mistaken for another of Zomby’s many EPs. Packaging music as an album rather than an EP gives a listener certain expectations, though. Traditionally, the EP is interstitial and transitional, taking artistic risks in a safer, below-the-radar release likely to only be heard by people predisposed to be root for you. The album, on the other hand, is expected to be a fully-formed statement with a cohesive structure.
One thing carried over from Where Were U in 92? is Zomby’s preference for short tracks crammed together end-to-end with sudden transitions (or, put another way, without transitions.) Those short running-times (along with nervy syncopation on tracks like "Digital Rain") might remind you of the L.A. beat scene, but without the textured warmth that gives Teebs and Flying Lotus their playful bent, Dedication has the dead stare of an NES game-over screen. On Where Were U, this was the quick-minded excitement of a bedroom-studio raver ready to party. Here, though, it’s more like the fractured conversation of someone who is deeply distracted. The inner jacket, in stark white-on-black text, says “Dedicated to BDM 11.11.46 – 25.06.10”. I know a quick Google could probably fill in the gaps, but if Zomby thought I required more backstory, he would have written liner-notes.
What is clear is that this is music in mourning. Everything is dark here. The minimal cover lists titles like “Witch Hunt”, “Vanquish”, “Riding with Death” and “Things Fall Apart”. The second track (“Natalia’s Song”) is so pretty and eager and desperate, not only the (probably sampled) female vocals, but also the minimal, Burial-esque percussion and the swaying synths sulking through their dirge chords. It’s one of the few tracks given a chance to develop, (at four minutes it is by far the longest on the album) but it still strains against some plastic sheet trapping it against the ground, as if it wants to take off into something cathartic but never does. On “Witch Hunt” gunshots (the saddest sound in the world) are used as percussion.
Everywhere, crisp synths with sharp, digital timbres, loop in big empty warehouses, with reverb ping-pong against cement and steel. There are no breaks or breakdowns, and the clouds never part. Even a guest spot from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear does nothing to break the cold, morose spell.
This is a record with an emotional purpose singular and clear. I actually find the unrelenting gloom to be a little overwhelming. The way incredible moments like “Vortex” are cut short is almost cruel, but I found myself with a kind of Stockholm Syndrome while listening to this. Dedication made me uneasy, and it captivated me totally. Comparing it to Where Were U in 92? reveals considerable range on Zomby’s part, and I’m sure both records will occupy unique roles in his slowly-growing body of work.
Labels: electronic music